It is notoriously difficult to cancel a gym membership. COVID has changed workout habits, and maybe you're looking for more. Here are tips to cancel your membership without losing too much money.

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Whether you're concerned about rising Delta variant cases, or have found new ways to get your exercise in, you might have considered cancelling your gym membership at some point this past year. Or, you simply don't go to the gym enough to justify paying the monthly fee and you would rather spend that money another way. In general, COVID has had a big impact on the fitness industry—and may have changed it for the long term.

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Credit: Getty Images

Last year, US gyms experienced a 58% decrease in revenue, and 17% of gyms closed for good, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA)'s 2021 report on US health club consumer trends. While many gyms have reopened, people are not rushing back. A recent survey by athletic shoe review site RunRepeat found that of the 5,055 gym members surveyed globally, the US had the lowest gym member return rate since the pandemic—only 29% said they had returned to the gym after it reopened. Almost 60% of all the participants surveyed responded that they had cancelled or were considering cancelling their gym memberships.

While the survey didn't list reasons why people chose not to return, the IHRSA report found that one out of five members also had subscriptions to an online fitness service. The report states that gyms could offer a combination of services and workout options such as outdoor, online, and on-demand programs to better engage the 15 million adults in the US who are currently inactive members.

Whatever your reasons may be, cancelling a gym membership is notoriously difficult. Here are tips on how to cancel your membership without losing too much money—or your sanity.

Carefully look over your gym's contract to see if you can avoid any penalties

Read the fine print to prepare for any cancellation fees you may have to pay or whether you have to notify your gym in advance of your intent to cancel. "Gym club contracts are drafted in such a way as to not allow a person to quit without suffering a penalty," says Reischer. He explains that gym club contracts are legally binding, and can only be breached when the terms of the contract are unconscionable or otherwise specifically prohibited by law. Even if you feel unsafe due to the pandemic, Reischer says that the effort a gym has made to reopen and follow health guidelines to make it as safe as possible would still hold you to the original contract. If relevant, providing proof such as a medical note, unemployment or a reduction of income, or relocation could help, but it's at the discretion of the gym.

Timing is key—cancel before the next billing cycle

Make sure you cancel your gym membership right before the next billing cycle starts. "This way, you won't be charged for an extra month at the gym you don't plan to use," says Marty Kelly, founder and editor of outdoor activity blog, Actively Outdoor. While you may still have to pay a cancellation fee, ending before the next billing cycle could save you from having to pay for the extra month on top of it. Check your billing date by looking at your credit or debit card statement to see when you typically get charged, or log into your member account on your gym's website or app to see your account details.

Consider freezing your membership instead of cancelling

You could also consider freezing your account, instead of cancelling altogether. "Try talking to the gym management and see if the membership can be transferred to another family member or temporarily frozen," says David Reischer, a licensed attorney in New York, and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. There is usually a fee for freezing, but it's generally less than the membership dues and it gives you some time to explore alternate options of working out, and see if you truly like it better. For example, LA Fitness allows monthly dues members to freeze their account indefinitely for $10 per month. Freezing is a good option if you are on the fence about cancelling, or if you want to check out other ways of exercising or even a different gym.

Dispute the charges with your credit card

If you have tried it all and still face a lot of resistance for wanting to cancel your membership, Reicher suggests the best thing to do is to dispute the charges with your credit card company. "Typically, a person that unilaterally cancels the contract will not face a lawsuit because most gyms collect sufficient upfront fees that they will not waste their time pursuing a lawsuit for the remaining money due," says Reicher. Again, if you're unsure about cancelling, freezing might be the better, more low-cost alternative. Even if you are charged a steep cancellation fee, you will be saving more in the long run by not having to pay those monthly gym dues and yearly maintenance fees. It's a (relatively) small price to pay to work out where and how you want to.

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